But Imran Has a Point

By Malik Siraj Akbar

The Balochistan government has reacted very furiously to the recent remarks passed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan in which he had termed the Balochistan government corrupt and unrepresentative of the people. In a press conference in Karachi, he had called for the dissolution of Balochistan Assembly and arrangement of fresh elections in the province in order to bring normalcy in the conflict-stricken Balochistan province.

Imran Khan is an insignificant politician in Pakistan who does not enjoy street power. He is often ridiculed for his criticism of every government in place. He is not even a strong opposition leader as he does not have the potential to urge the government to reverse certain policies that Mr. Khan sees going against the interests of the people. In a nutshell, his PTI is, by and large, a one-man show.

The highest level of success it has achieved so far is the attainment of one seat (that too by Imran himself) in the National Assembly. In case Mr. Khan boycotts a poll, his party fails to enter into the parliament which is the right place to criticize the ruling party in a pure democratic set-up. Political pundits convincingly believe that Imran is going replace late Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan whose role will continue to remain confined to criticizing every coming government.

With the PTI having no strong roots in rest of the country, Balochistan remains adamant to provide space to such a political party whose manifesto is tilted towards the Right. Imran Khan’s politics has failed to make inroads in the Baloch society because he is more concerned about the fate of the “Muslim brothers” suffering in Palestine and Afghanistan as compared to the missing Baloch persons.

Imran, Balochs continue to complain, impressively keeps a track record of the Jewish , CIA and Blackwater activities taking place across the world but does not remember how many Balochs are picked up by the state intelligence agencies per month. It is this reason that the flamboyant cricketer-turned politician has not gained any kind of popularity in a province where the youths are increasingly losing faith in the parliamentary politics and resent maintaining any kind of contacts with the federation.

In the backdrop of Imran’s influence in the national politics, no one regards his statements seriously or as ‘offensive’. If he had utter similar remarks about any of the Pakistan People’s Party or the Pakistan Muslim League (PML—All factions) leaders elsewhere in the country, no one would have even bothered to heed his allegations let alone rebutting them. The response in Balochistan has been totally flabbergasting.

Firstly, PPP’s parliamentary leader and the provincial minister for communication and works, Mir Sadiq Umrani expressed his displeasure in the local media about Mr. Khan’s comments by billing them highly offensive. Then, Umrani was immediately followed by another member of the assembly and former minister for food, Haji Ali Madad Jattak, who also condemned Imran Khan for his views and sought an apology for criticizing the public mandate given by the people of Balochistan to the provincial government.

The issue did not fade away even after denunciation of the remarks by two important PPP leaders. It seemed Imran’s comments had embarrassed more people in the government, including those who do not belong to the PPP. Thus, the issue was broached on the floor of the Balochistan Assembly on Thursday in which several important ministers in the Balochistan government ventilated their displeasure on what Imran had said about them. The most radical comment was made by provincial finance minister Mir Asim Kurd who warned that if Mr. Khan did not apologize over his remarks, he would be (un)welcomed with tomatoes and potatoes on his next arrival to Balochistan as a symbol of disrespect.

Why such a hullabaloo over Imran’s denigration of the provincial government when politicians are expected to be tolerant enough to digest all forms of flak against them. Politicians are public figures who often introduce themselves as the self-appointed “servants of the downtrodden masses”. Such frantic reactions to an opposition leader’s criticism indicate that there is something in the bottom.

As we draw our conclusion of what Imran said, his criticism was not personal and directed to an individual. Since everyone in a democratic setup has the right to analyze or criticize the policies of the government, Imran too, as a politician as well as a citizen of this country, exercised his right to criticize a bunch of people who were formerly allied with Pervez Musharraf and now with the PPP-led coalition government in Balochistan to do nothing for the welfare of the people of Balochistan.

What Imran said about the Balochistan government is entirely the same thing that one hears every day from the masses in the streets. The people of Balochistan are largely dissatisfied with the performance of the provincial government which, they point out, has disconnected all links with the masses. The provincial ministers do not sit in their offices to meet complainants and resolve their problems. Worst still, these ministers are not accountable to anyone in the Balochistan Assembly as there is no visible opposition present in the 65-member house where a vast majority of the MPs are ministers in the provincial cabinet.

It is pathetic that the opposition parties in Balochistan, such as the Balochistan National Party (BNP) and the National Party, are playing double standards by having their ministers in the provincial cabinet (who were fielded as independent candidates during the previous general elections) and publically claiming to have boycotted the polls. With their leaders enjoying the ministries, these parties have lost the moral ground to criticize the policies of the Balochistan government. As a result, we see a vacuum in Balochistan’s politics where no political party is playing its role as the genuine opposition to keep a check on the performance of the provincial government. As far as the Baloch National Front (BNF) is concerned, it sees parliament and government as an anathema to it because of its unflinching commitment to the idea of Balochistan’s independence.

Therefore, the BNF is least interested to play the role of an opposition party. Similarly, Pashtunkhawa Milli Awami Party, which must be complimented for not playing double standards during the boycotted general elections, does not find ample time to play the role of an opposition because it has narrowed down its politics to anti-Baloch agenda, demanding equal status like the majority Baloch population and the office of governor with a Baloch serving as the chief minister of the province.

Amid convoluted internal politics, Imran Khan spoke on the right time for the people of Balochistan. Enjoying a larger audience in the media, Mr. Khan perhaps exposed the deficiencies of the provincial government to the rest of the country. All that one can recommend the Balochistan government on this matter is to keep silent and improve its poor performance in the areas of law and order, conflict management, economic development, improving the social indicators, protecting women and minorities and combating corruption which is prevalent and deep-rooted in the provincial government.

This article originally appeared in The Baloch Hal, Balochistan’s first online English newspaper

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